FROM A SUSPENSEFUL PLOT THAT PLAYS OUT IN MELBOURNE TO A SCI-FI FORAY AT THE END OF THE WORLD, IT’S EASY TO ESCAPE IN THESE PAGES
THE AUTUMN MURDERS Robert Gott SCRIBE,$30
Set in 1944 Melbourne, this masterly suspense novel by Robert Gott had me reading all night. Although it’s the third in a series, this was my first — and it stands alone as a great individual read. The Melbourne landmarks are both familiar and strange as we see them through a historic end-of-war veil. The operations at the old Russell St police station and the forensics and police procedures of the era are also fascinating. However, it’s the rapid-fire storyline and expert plotting that make this novel a quick read, while great characters and astute social observations will keep you glued to the pages and invested in the outcome. There are several themes within the book — anti-semitism, sexism, religious fervour and a touch of class conflict. The period was also when the worst of the German atrocities were first being reported. Also a cartoonist, Gott’s quirky humour shows through in this sometimes grizzly crime novel.
KARINA BARRYMORE VERDICT: Superb suspense
DEFEATING THE MINISTERS OF DEATH David Isaacs HARPERCOLLINS, $35
Throughout history, diseases have killed more people than wars. As recently as 1950, an estimated 10 million people worldwide died from smallpox alone. Go back further and the death rates skyrocket. Spanish flu killed more than 50 million people in 1919. In earlier centuries, the figures may not be so huge, but only because the world’s population was smaller. “Nature is the world’s greatest terrorist,” writes Australian paediatrician Isaacs in this fascinating history of the fight against infections. From the plagues of ancient times and the Middle Ages, to the latest immunisation techniques and the ongoing battle to eradicate diseases in developing countries, Isaacs not only illuminates the characters and breakthroughs behind vaccinations, but confronts the wilful ignorance of people today. The growing number of antivaccination devotees would do well to read this before putting the rest of society at risk.
JEFF MAYNARD VERDICT: Crucial
A BOY AND HIS DOG AT THE END OF THE WORLD C.A. Fletcher HACHETTE AUSTRALIA, $33
What would you do if a stranger stole one of your beloved dogs? You would probably post it on Instagram, Snapchat or Facebook, but imagine if none of those existed; that you were born after the modern world had ended and your understanding of the past was garnered from old books. Cities have reverted to nature, there is no technology and the human race faces extinction. In that case you would most likely do the same as young Gritz; hunt the thief and try to get your dog back. Gritz sails to the mainland, finding remnants of the past, other humans and a whole heap of trouble. By using the first-person narrative, Fletcher gives the reader the feeling they are viewing the journey through a dashcam and not just through Gritz’s writings. As the adventure unfolds, survival becomes the name of the game but the hunt is definitely worth it.
WENDY MASON VERDICT: Heartfelt sci-fi
HOW IT FEELS TO FLOAT Helena Fox PAN MACMILLAN, $18
A journey of love, grief, family and friendship, this young adult debut is raw and insightful. Set by the sea in Wollongong, the story follows 17year-old Biz as she grapples with her identity and sexuality. Following an incident involving lies, sex and drama, Biz’s mental health spirals. Outcast by her circle of friends, Biz drops out of school and her chaotic thoughts magnify until she feels outside of her body, as though she is floating. Still struggling with the death of her father a decade ago, Biz doesn’t tell anyone that she still sees him. Drawn to the new boy at school, she constantly wonders what he thinks and how he feels. Eventually, he becomes a confidant and lifeline for Biz — perhaps a budding romance. Overall, Biz’s journey with mental illness is harrowing, yet inspiring and hopeful. Despite the darkness and chaos as she copes with the loss of friendship and death of her father, she sees light ahead. Biz’s story is a powerful message, reminding us of all the beautiful and frightening possibilities in life.
VERDICT: Thought provoking